Care and Feeding of Your Neurodivergent Family Member: Holiday Edition

Let’s see if we can keep this from happening to your neurodivergent family members during the holiday season.

You may have a family member that is neurodivergent and secretly hates the holidays. Why? Because the holidays can be a fucking nightmare for us. Filled with crowds, uncomfortable situations, and sensory overload, this season makes me–and a lot of people like me–wish that hibernation was an option for humans. At the very least, it makes the hermit life look pretty damn good.

This Is a Problem?

It’s definitely a problem. And, if you’re thinking that, it’s a big problem. Mostly because it means that you haven’t given any thought to what your neurodivergent family member has to deal with during the holidays. It’s not all your fault, though. There is more literature available for helping your fucking pets get through this season than there is for these actual human beings. But never fear, my beloved yet clueless enty friends, because your favorite socially awkward weirdo is here with some tips to help you make the holiday season a little easier for your endie family member.

A Few Tips to Help Your Neurodivergent Weirdo Survive

  • Endies (aka neurodivergent folks) do not like surprises so make sure they know in advance what to expect. Knowing what’s coming/what to expect in a situation allows us to put together a plan to deal with the inevitable meltdown that we know is coming. We’re not good with change and tend to avoid it if at all possible and any help you can give is greatly appreciated.
  • Because endies don’t handle change very well, do your best to avoid switching up the agenda. If change is inevitable, give them advance notice. This advance notice should be more than a couple of hours. Think days/weeks/months. Although abso-fucking-lutely never is preferable.
  • Sensory overload is always an issue with someone who’s neurodivergent and the holidays are no exception. Especially if there’s a big crowd. More people=more noise and more noise=more stimulation. And, too much stimulation will lead to that meltdown I mentioned earlier. A nice way around this is to set aside a quiet, comfortable space where they can chill for a few minutes. Emphasis on “comfortable”. While the bathroom is an option–one I’ve used on more than one occasion–it’s not great. I mean, you can only sit on the toilet seat for so long before your legs fall asleep.
  • Have some activities planned. And, by “activities”, I mean something beyond talking or watching television. Especially if you’ve got someone who puts the “H” in ADHD. But, and I cannot emphasize this too much, do not require people to engage in these activities. Some of us need to be doing something all the time. Others? Not so much. Let everyone decide the level of engagement they’re comfortable with. And then, respect their decision.
  • Make sure your endie knows who the huggers are. Most of us have varying degrees of comfort with physical touch, up to and including a full on touch phobia. In general, though, if we know who the huggers are we can either be prepared for an embrace or take steps to avoid it all together. And, if you’re one of those huggers, know that the declaration “I can’t help it, I’m a hugger!” doesn’t make anything better.
  • Most importantly, understand that neurodivergent folks aren’t a monolith so what works for me may not help someone else. At. All. That means it’s critical to ask your endie what they need to navigate the holidays with their sanity intact. Sit down with them and talk about what’s on the agenda, who’s coming, and where the celebration is taking place. That way, you can put together a plan to deal with any issues that might come up.

Happy Holidays, Y’all

Really, the bottom line to all of this is to take a few minutes and give some thought to what your neurodivergent family members want or need to actually have a happy holiday. Really, knowing their family gives enough of a shit about them to make this effort could be the best gift they get this year. Not the only one, mind you. Daddy does need some new slippers, after all.